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The Art Gallery of Ontario is receiving a $12-million donation from Toronto's W. Garfield Weston Foundation to help finance the reconstruction of its education/public programming facilities and an educational endowment, it was announced yesterday.

The foundation, with reported assets of close to $43.5-million in 2006, has earmarked $10-million of its gift to the reconstruction project, which will be known as the Weston Family Learning Centre upon completion in 2011. The remaining $2-million is going to the Weston Foundation Teacher Training Fund, which "will support workshops for teachers-in-training in partnership with local faculties of education."

The AGO is billing the $12-million as the "largest single gift in support of education" that it has received in its 108-year history. The gift also represents almost half of the $25-million the Toronto gallery hopes to raise for its educational centre, to be located within the AGO's current footprint, in its northwest quadrant.

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The AGO plans to hold an architectural competition for the learning centre, which is not part of the $276-million Transformation AGO project conceived by superstar architect Frank Gehry and scheduled to open in mid-November. Indeed, the site of the centre has been used as a vault to store art and other materials during the Transformation construction.

A selection committee will invite five or six architects from around the world to submit proposals for the centre. The winner is expected to be named in June, 2009, with construction expected to start in 2010.

The gift ensures that the Weston name will be prominently placed within the revamped AGO. In the pre-Gehry AGO, George Weston Hall was the gallery's major entry space. It was named after the founder of George Weston Ltd., precursor to the multibillion-dollar food conglomerate built up by Weston's son, Garfield (1898-1978), and grandson, Galen.

Earlier this year, Canadian Business ranked Galen Weston, 67, Canada's third-wealthiest individual, with a net worth of almost $7.3-billion, thanks to his chairmanship and presidency of George Weston Ltd.

Foundation director Garfield Mitchell said yesterday that the Westons are "delighted to support the AGO" in a way that contributes to the gallery's long-term sustainability and dovetails with the foundation's educational mandate. He likened the gift to the $15-million the foundation gave in 2003 to the Ontario Science Centre. The largest gift in the foundation's history, that money was used to finance five "experience zones" at the centre collectively called the Weston Family Innovation Centre.

The Weston gift will "dramatically increase programming capacity for students, teachers and community members," AGO officials said. The gallery's education and community programming was started in 1930 by Arthur Lismer of the Group of Seven and now serves more than 100,000 young people, adults, educators and families.

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